Participants:  Maryna Shepeleva (M.S.), Nicoleta Mușat (N.M.)
Location & date: FITT Timișoara, Romania / August 2022

M.S.: My name is Maryna Shepeleva.

N.M.: You can start. I’ll try to not ask too many questions. 

M.S.: You can ask me questions. It will be easier for me. When you have lived such a long life as I have (laughs), you may focus on certain things that are maybe not of interest to others. (laughs)

N.M.: (smiles) How old are you?

M.S.: I am 39 years old. 

N.M.: I wish you a long, prosperous and peaceful life.

M.S.: Peaceful, that is the most important now. So where to start? We are from Brovary, a city that is 10 kilometers away from Kyiv in the direction of Russia. The road from Moscow to Kyiv goes straight through our city, so we are a transit city. That’s where they [the Russians] were supposed to pass to get to Kyiv. I was born there and have lived there my whole life, except for a few years after I got married. We lived in Kyiv for a while, then we went back to Brovary because it was calmer and more peaceful. Two years ago, we managed to buy a house for our family. Having a house and a big family had been our dream ever since we got married. I graduated from university as an interpreter, and most of my employment has been related to this field. I was a simultaneous interpreter before my second child was born. Then I had to go on maternity leave, and that’s when my career totally stopped. (laughs). When the first one grew up, the third one came. (laughs) 

N.M.: It’s a full-time job.

M.S.: Yes, if you take into account school and other things. I have a 9-year-old son, a 6-year-old daughter and the youngest one is 7 months old. I occasionally did some work translating from home.

N.M.: Did you study languages in Kyiv?

M.S.: Yes, I graduated from Kyiv National Linguistic University.  

N.M.: Which languages did you study?

M.S.: English and German. English is my work language. I don’t use German a lot. It is difficult to manage both. So German is somewhere in the past. (smiles)

N.M.: How many languages do you speak?

M.S.: Russian, Ukrainian, English and German, but German only a little now. (smiles)

N.M.: And you also know some words in Romanian.

M.S.: Yes, a few words. Every day we learn new words, but when you speak English, you become a little bit lazy when it comes to new languages. (smiles) My children learn Romanian, they go to LOGS for classes, so I learn a little bit with them. It’s easier. (smiles)

N.M.: Is it the norm in Ukraine to own your house?

M.S.: Yes, we try to buy. Maybe it’s the mentality. Every Ukrainian family dreams of owning a house or an apartment. Some people prefer to rent, but this was not our case. When renting, you pay a monthly amount to somebody. We thought it was better to save money for a while and buy our own property. Because it is very expensive to rent. Kyiv is a very expensive city. Brovary it is a little bit cheaper. But anyway, when you rent, your money goes to somebody else.

N.M.: Is it better to pay the bank instead?

M.S.: Yes, it is better to pay the bank and have your own flat. I lived with my parents in a one-bedroom apartment for most of my family life. We were four people, then the children came. When we had our second child, we realized we needed our own space, as [my parents’ flat] was very small for six people. You can imagine. (laughs) So we decided to do everything we could to move. 

N.M.: Is it the norm for middle class people to go on vacation to countryside houses?

M.S.: It’s difficult to explain, but I will try. My parents came from the countryside. Many people came from villages, so they already had a house there. So you didn’t need a summer house because you already had one in the village. It was the same with us. My parents have a house in the village, and my husband’s parents have a house in another village, so we never really thought about it, since we always had a choice about which village to go to. 

N.M.: So you used to go to the countryside for the summer? 

M.S.: Yes, we used to go to the countryside in summer, especially since we lived in an apartment and didn’t have a big courtyard. In the village, you have a garden, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers…

N.M.: Does anybody live there?

M.S.: Yes, my husband’s grandmother is still alive, and she lives in the village. She works in the garden. And my parents do too. They live in the city, but they go to the village and plant vegetables. My aunt also lives in the village, so she takes care of the house, but my parents help her. And we can go there any time because they are my parents. 

N.M.: When did they move to the city? 

M.S.: A long time ago. I think it was when they graduated. They were around 20 years old when they moved to Brovary, and they remained there. 

N.M.: Was it common for people in their generation to study and then move to the city?

M.S.: Yes. They lived in the village, then they would go to the city for their studies. After that, they would either stay there or go to another city. Life in the countryside was difficult. There were no jobs, so people were looking for opportunities. 

N.M.: Was there a kolhoz in your parents’ village?

M.S.: At the time Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Their village was quite big, so they had both a kolhoz and a radgosp, two types of collective farms. 

N.M.: What happened to the land after the dissolution of the Soviet Union?

M.S.: When the Soviet Union dissolved, the land was distributed among the inhabitants of the village. It was called pai, which means part of the land. It’s a huge collective field, divided into small plots, each belonging to a certain person in the village. Farmers use this land and pay for using it. 

N.M.: Is it something like a rent?

M.S.: Yes, something like this. Each person would have a plot of land, my grandfather would have one, my grandmother would have one, and so on. Let’s say each person would have one hectare to rent out. They wouldn’t use it for their own needs, someone else would be using it, but they would get the money. This was the case for privately owned land. You couldn’t use it, but you got paid. 

N.M.:  So if I had 20 hectares before the Soviet Union, would I have them back now? 

M.S.: After the Soviet Union? No. 

N.M.: What about houses and properties? Were they nationalized?

M.S.: My grandparents were born in 1929, so after the end of that period. My grandmother told me that her parents were rich and had a lot of land, which was all taken from them by the Soviet authorities. But I don’t know a lot of details. My grandmother didn’t tell me much. She said we were kurkuli (rich people) and when the Soviet Union took over, we were left with only a house and a small piece of land. 

N.M.: I’ve heard some people were deported?

M.S.: Not in our village, because it was a part of Poland for a while. From what I remember from my grandmother’s stories, the village was Catholic and there was a cathedral and a Polish Pan (lord). People would work for that Pan, my grandmother’s sister included. Then the Soviet Union came, and the land was nationalized.  

N.M.: Do you have some Polish heritage?

M.S.: No, but maybe I just don’t know about it, as my maiden name was Sandratska, which has a specific Polish ending. We believe that we have some connections or Polish roots, but I don’t know for sure, and we can’t prove it. I believe everyone in that village had some connections. 

N.M.: What about your husband? Is he from the same area?

M.S.: No, he was born in Kyiv. His mother and grandmother were from the Kyiv region, closer to Boryspil. Do you know Boryspil International Airport? It’s near there. They lived in that area and then they moved to Kyiv, where his mother was born. 

N.M.: How did you meet?

M.S.: At work. (laughs). Like it usually happens, at work, in Kyiv. At a conference. I was working as an event planner, and he was working in that field. So we met at an event. 

N.M.: What age were you when you met?

M.S.: 25. (laughs) Not too early and not too late (laughs).

N.M.: And your mother?

M.S.: She got married when she was 24, I think.  

N.M.: And your grandmother? Do you know?

M.S.: In those days, they got married quite early, 18 or 19, something like that. They celebrated 50 years of marriage when I was in school. My grandfather was in the Second World War. He was 18 in 1945. That year he went to war, and a year after that they got married. 

N.M.: Did you ask him about the war? Did he tell you anything?

M.S.: We tried to ask when we were children, but he preferred not to talk about it. He said: it is better for you not to know. He told stories, but mostly funny stories. He shared some memories. But if we tried to ask more questions, he used to say: this was enough for you. 

N.M.: Do you have any idea where he fought?

M.S.: I know for sure he was in Berlin, but I don’t know where exactly. He joined when they started to push them (the Nazis) back. So he passed through many countries and ended up in Berlin. That’s all I know. 

N.M.: What would you say now, is it better to know or not to know?

M.S.: It is useful to know. But in 1945 it was one war, now it’s a completely different one. Even if they had told us more, it wouldn’t have helped much. Because there were no long-distance missiles then. At the time, if they attacked, they wouldn’t launch a rocket attack on the entire country. That’s why it’s a completely different story and a different war. Sometimes I am glad he is not alive right now, because he wouldn’t have been able to bear it. He used to say: we were so proud that we managed to punish them to make sure this can never happen again. (crying) Sorry, it is difficult.  

N.M.: Do you know anything about Holodomor?

M.S.: Yes, that’s also part of my grandparents’ story. They survived it in 1932. Again, they didn’t tell us much about it. But when we were naughty as children and refused to eat our food, my grandmother would tell us stories from her childhood. There were seven of them in the family, they would sit on the pich (where people were baking bread) and beg their mother for something to eat, but she had nothing to give them. So she would gather whatever she could find and cook something. The children would ask for bread or butter. Again, at the time they were a rich family. My grandmother told me she was dreaming of butter. They kept a piece of butter in the pohrib (something like a fridge), so she went and bit into the butter. Her mother started cursing and asking who had done it. My grandmother had some butter between her teeth, so her mother said: Maria, you did it again! (smiles). She had stories about going to the field and trying to find something to eat there. It was difficult because the authorities would come and take away cows, chickens, grains, anything they could find. If families managed to keep one or two cows they could survive, because the milk helped them. They managed to hide some bread, so it wasn’t as bad as in other regions. They survived it. I don’t know too many stories, as my grandmother was young. She was born in 1929, so she was only 3 years old and couldn’t remember a lot. I remember that one of her brothers died during Holodomor. He was ill and they couldn’t provide him with proper treatment. But the rest survived. 

N.M.: So you come from a family of survivors?  

M.S.: Yes. That’s for sure. (smiles)

N.M.: How was your daily life in Ukraine?

M.S.: It was normal: school, afterschool, kindergarten. Getting my son ready for school, waking up my daughter, taking her to classes, to dance classes, art classes, bringing her back home, homework, after classes. 

N.M.: This was all in Brovary?

M.S.: Yes. 

N.M.:How big is it?

M.S.: The population is about 150,000. It’s quite big, but smaller than Timișoara. Maybe as big as Timișoara without the new residential areas. A 30-minute drive from one end to the other. But we don’t have so much traffic. Most of the people work in Kyiv, so they leave in the morning and come back in the evening. During the day it is quite comfortable to move through the city. 

N.M.:Do you drive every day? 

M.S.: Almost. When you have three kids, it’s impossible to live without a car. Otherwise, you have to pay somebody to drive them. We live in a suburb, as there are no houses in the city centre, so you need to take a bus.

N.M.: Is it complicated?

M.S.: Yes, you have to walk one kilometre to the nearest bus station, carrying a small child, so it’s not convenient to be without a car. And we were always busy. My husband had his private business, so he was always busy as well, so I had to be mobile and flexible. And independent. 

N.M.: Are you still on maternity leave?

M.S.: Yes, because of the youngest one. (laughs) 

N.M.: How was the month before everything started?

M.S.: It was quite a difficult month because my youngest daughter was born on the 30th December, just before the New Year, so she was one and a half months old. School had started, so it was life as usual: getting the children ready for school, driving them there and back, keeping busy with the youngest.

N.M.: So you were not particularly interested in politics and international politics?

M.S.: No, I didn’t care much, and I was busy with my kids. Yes, there were rumours and we had discussed the possibility of a Russian attack in autumn or maybe earlier. But frankly, I didn’t believe it. My husband was more pessimistic and from time to time he would insist: but what if? I would tell hi- forget about it, they’re just trying to scare us, it’s the 21st century, we are in the middle of Europe, come on. It won’t happen. But he had a sixth sense, he was pushing me. When our daughter was born, he said: we have to get her a passport. We have to be ready. We didn’t expect Europe to open its borders for everyone. So we were getting ready to enter legally. 

Also, when I was in my 24th week, we learned that our daughter was going to be born with a cleft lip. We knew that we would need surgery. This operation could be done in Ukraine, but we knew that if anything happened, we would have to go abroad as the surgery had to be done when the baby was between 4 and 6 months old. We only had 2 months. So we got her the passport to be able to move around. The other kids already had passports. We travelled to Turkey in September, also to Egypt. In general, we were not feeling bad at the time. We all had passports, even my parents had passports. And even after we got a passport for the youngest, he was still pushing: but what if? I told hi- forget about it. And he said: let’s check some options for going abroad. I told hi- no, I am not going abroad with a one-month-old baby, leave me alone, I will stay home, I will not go anywhere. But then the situation changed. 

On the 24th of February—I think no one will forget that day—I wasn’t sleeping, I was feeding my daughter. It was 5 o’clock in the morning and when I heard the first explosion… You sit there and you don’t understand: what is going on? Our city was one of the first to get bombed. There was a military base at one end and a weapon storage facility at the other end, plus a factory for manufacturing bullets. 

N.M.: Military objectives?

M.S.: Yes. And they were the first to be attacked. So the first explosion was at the military base, 5 kilometres from us. The weapon storage facility was 10 kilometres from us. I didn’t understand what the first explosion was. On the second explosion, my husband woke up and asked what was going on. I remember this internal trembling. We started to search the internet, but there was no information. Then people started to write: the war has started. For me, it was like the end of everything. Also, we didn’t believe it would last long. They would not bomb houses, they would not bomb people. They would bomb only military bases.

And then my husband said: let’s pack.

I said: I will not pack, I am not going to leave. Where should we go? He went to the grocery store to buy supplies for the baby, one-month worth of diapers, one-month worth of formula, as I wasn’t breastfeeding. And people started to panic. In our area, a lot of well-off people left. I started noticing that people were going away. We stayed as we had a last massage scheduled for the baby and the masseur was coming from Kyiv. At the same time, I was packing, saying to myself: it will end in one week, but we will go to the village to be safe. This was my parent’s village, 200 kilometres away from Kyiv, in the middle of nowhere, so it seemed safe. I packed things for two weeks: some warm clothes for the kids to wear in the village, and I told my husband: we will go there just to make you feel at ease.

N.M.: What did you tell the kids?

M.S.: It was the most difficult thing, as they were going to school, and of course, it was cancelled, and the TV was on. Usually, we don’t watch it, but that morning it was on. I told them that we might have to go to the village for a couple of weeks because staying home was not safe. Electricity could be cut, and our house runs on electricity. I told them to pack a few toys that they might need and that we would come back in a few weeks. My daughter, who is five, didn’t understand a lot, she just heard some explosions, and she was shivering and asking: what’s that? (crying) I don’t remember what I told her. We didn’t say those were explosions, and we didn’t see the fire as we were on the first floor. If we had been on the second floor, we would have seen it. But we heard it, and the walls and windows were shaking. And when we finally packed and were leaving the city, we saw that the military base had been hit by bombs. It was by the side of the road. I didn’t pay attention, as I was driving, but my mother was with the baby in the back seat, and she saw the fire.

My father refused to go, as many people were leaving, and a lot of houses and apartments were left unsupervised—so it was like come and take whatever you need. He said: you go, I will stay, and if anybody comes, they will see somebody is here. My husband’s sister and her family live in the same city as us. We called them and asked them to come with us. So we packed our big family and left for the village. That was a good decision as we didn’t hear explosions anymore, but they were still happening every day. My father never said anything. He always said: it is ok. (smiles). But our neighbours said that the Russians were approaching. They were 30 kilometres away and we expected them to occupy Boryspil. And anyway, they didn’t have any other way to get to Kyiv except through our city. We read the news every day, from early in the morning till late at night, and expected them to occupy Boryspil and destroy everything. The most difficult part was that my father was still there. We asked him to join us, but he refused. Then he started digging in the yard.

N.M.: To make a shelter? 

M.S.: Yes, a shelter, because our house doesn’t have a basement. And we have windows everywhere. The only safe place is the bathroom. But in case of a direct explosion, it will not protect you. 

N.M.: What about the shelters in the city? When it all started, they made a list of the shelters in Timișoara. 

M.S.: The nearest was 10-minute walk from our house. You understand, it doesn’t make sense to even try, because it might be too late. And for a city of 150,000, we only have 5 or 6 properly equipped shelters. And around them, there are 25 buildings, each with 1,000 people. Yes, many people left, but many people had stayed. So it wouldn’t have made sense for him to go there. So he started to dig a shelter. By that time we had understood that everything was really bad in the city and staying in the village had been ok for a week, but we needed water for the baby, we needed milk. Then they bombed the hospital where my daughter was supposed to have her surgery. It was also dangerous because they had already bombed schools and hospitals. And we made the hard decision of going abroad. We had limited time for the operation and we had to be close to civilization, as there was nothing in the village. And if there was no electricity, we wouldn’t survive with a 2-month-old baby. There would be no food, no water, nothing. I wouldn’t be able to make her food. 

My husband’s sister refused to go with us. She said they would join us later if it got worse. I asked my mother to come with us, as I needed help with the kids and with the baby, and we would have to have surgery and I didn’t know in which country. So I asked her, please, come with us. 

When we were close to the border and the Russian troops were 10 kilometres away from our city, I called my father and said: please, come with us, forget about the house, it doesn’t matter. (crying). And he said: ok, I will pack and leave tomorrow. My mother was crying all the time. She didn’t want to leave the country because her husband was still there. (crying). When I told her he would leave the next day, she was so happy and asked me: how did you do it? I said: I don’t know. After three days he joined us, so we were all finally together. This made it easier for us to go through this. Otherwise, it would have been very difficult. Thank God they didn’t come to our city, they stopped 10 kilometres before that, but it was very close. Just one more day and they would have been there. The surrounding villages were destroyed. We were very lucky they only bombed our city a few times, the more industrial parts. We were lucky and I hope we will continue to be lucky and still have a property to come back to.

N.M.: I hope everything will be ok. Do you have any idea what’s happening with your house? Do you have neighbours who are there?

M.S.: We have neighbours. We have a duplex, one house divided into two parts. Our neighbours left, but they came back after a month, so at least we have somebody next to our home. Our friends in Kyiv didn’t leave, and once a month they go and check if everything is ok. We know it’s fine. And Sasha’s sister went back two months ago.

N.M.: She remained in the village?

M.S.: Yes. They stayed there until June.

N.M.: They didn’t leave the country?

M.S.: No, they didn’t. 

N.M.: Do they have a child? 

M.S.: Yes, they have a child, and he is still here. (smiles) They went back in June. By that time, things were calm. We are asking my husband’s mother to come and visit us, as she hasn’t seen her grandchildren in 4 months. If she comes, she could take him with her. Things are calm, but air raid sirens still go off 3, 4 times a day.

N.M.: Are you supposed to go to the shelter when you hear them?

M.S.: Yes, but people don’t go. They live in a 25-storey high block of flats. They live on the 20th floor, so you understand. It’s good enough if they go to the corridor, that’s what most people do. And to run up and down the stairs with a child (you cannot use the elevator) is nonsense. 

N.M.: So every day could be the last day?

M.S.: Yes, you never know. People are more relaxed now, as Kyiv and its surroundings have not been attacked in a long time. But then again, you have heard about Vinnytsia. And Vinnytsia hadn’t been attacked at all. Then, out of nowhere, a missile. The truth is you aren’t safe. You can’t feel safe anywhere in Ukraine. They have rockets that can travel 5,000 kilometres. So you are not protected. It’s crazy to go back now. That’s why we are staying here. At least here we are protected.  

N.M.: How did you decide to come to Romania? Wasn’t Poland an option?

M.S.: It was by accident. We didn’t know where to go, we were just driving with our friends. They have two kids, two boys. And our children are getting along pretty well. The husband was sending the wife and kids away, as he couldn’t leave. He told me: if you go, I will send her with you. She will not go alone. She is scared. It was a good idea because we were together, and our kids were together.

N.M.: And you had a man with you.

M.S.: Yes, my husband. We were not sure, but there was a law that men with three kids could go abroad. So it was easier for us to stay together. We crossed the border into Slovakia, but we didn’t have anywhere to stay. We made the decision to leave in the evening and we left in the morning, so we didn’t have time to look for accommodation. We were not heading anywhere in particular, we just wanted to cross the border. Then we found a house on the border between Slovakia and Hungary, just somewhere to stay while we figured out what was going on. We stayed there for 3 or 4 days. My friend has relatives in France, and they found her a place to stay. She said: let’s go together, we will find something for you as well. She packed and left. We stayed as we were waiting for my father to join us. I told her we would follow, but then she called and said they hadn’t managed to find anything for us. Just two hotel rooms. With three kids and a baby, that wasn’t a good idea.

So we started to look everywhere for a place to rent, something cheap, as we were in a bit of a crisis. In Poland and Germany rent was more than 1,000 euro per month, which was too expensive for us. We moved on to Croatia and Montenegro, looking for something under 500 euro per month. But again, we are a big family, and we needed a big apartment. My husband owns a logistics company, and he has a lot of partners, so one of them suggested we went to Luxembourg. My husband said: yes, I know it is expensive, but let’s consider it. The partner called his sister and she said she would look for something there, but then she came back saying it was expensive and we couldn’t manage it.

A couple of hours later, she called and asked us if we wanted to go to Romania. For us, it didn’t matter: whether in Romania, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, we just needed a place to stay while we figured out what to do next. So she put us in touch with an ex-colleague of hers who had an apartment in Timișoara. Our first reaction was: Timișoara? What is Timișoara? Where is it? Ok, Timișoara it is. (laughs) When we talked to her, she said she had a pretty big apartment and relatives there who could give us the keys. So that’s how we ended up here. We wanted to come and stay for a few weeks, while we looked for something else, but we ended up staying. 

N.M.: When did you arrive here? 

M.S.: We arrived here on the 9th of March. We crossed the border on the 3rd and arrived in Timisoara on the 9th. That’s where we are (laughs) and, frankly, we don’t want to go any further. 

N.M.: Do you feel like it’s safe?

M.S.: It’s safe, it’s comfortable, I like it. I have everything I need here. It is not expensive, the kids are busy, LOGS provides a lot of activities. 

N.M.: The city centre is close.

M.S.: Yes, everything is close here. 10 minutes to everywhere. (laughs)

N.M.: And are the kids attending a Romanian school?

M.S.: No, they don’t go to a Romanian school. We’ve attended the online classes of a Ukrainian school and we are still trying to decide what to do about this year, but the teacher said: I will be having online classes anyway. So I think they will continue online, but the youngest one has to enrol in 1st grade, and we expect FITT to open a Ukrainian school, as a Romanian school would be quite stressful. She doesn’t speak English or Romanian, so it doesn’t make sense. 

N.M.: What about your friends and relatives, where are they?

M.S.: Some friends are in Germany, some relatives are in Croatia and Montenegro, some friends are in Italy, some of those who didn’t have kids stayed in Ukraine. Those who had kids left. They are all around Europe.

N.M.: And your parents? What language do they speak?

M.S.: They only speak Ukrainian. My grandmother and my brother, as well as other relatives, speak only Ukrainian. Dominic sometimes speaks Russian, because he was born in Kyiv, and he spent some time playing with kids on his street. And when kids asked him something in Russian, he answered in Russian as well. I don’t want to forbid him from doing it. It is not important what language you speak, it is more important what you feel inside. 

N.M.: Do you keep in touch with you friends and relatives?

M.S.: Yes, of course. These days it is easier to keep in touch via Telegram and Facebook. At first, we spoke often, but now everyone has their own life, so we only speak from time to time. How are you, is everything ok, what’s going on.

N.M.: Has it become easier for you to be here? How do you feel?

M.S.: It’s ok now. It was difficult in the beginning. We didn’t expect it to last this long. We were living out of our suitcases. We thought we were going to go back. First, we were only going to stay till April, then till the end of May, then till July and now we realize we are not going back this year. If we start school here, we are not going to leave till the end of May. So we can finally unpack our suitcases. (laughs) And learn how to lead a regular life here. That’s all we can do now. 

N.M.: To try to live the same life as home? 

M.S.: Yes. I told you what these five months have been like. 

N.M.: How did you adapt?

M.S.: We make no particular plans. We plan for one or two weeks. If we plan for three weeks, it is already too much. If someone asks where we will go next month, I think come on, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. And that’s the most difficult thing, you have no idea what will happen tomorrow. Where will you be tomorrow? What will you do tomorrow? You can’t make any plans. We were expecting it to end soon so we could go home, but now it’s like: relax, you are not going home for at least another 6 or 9 months. So let’s plan our life here. That’s what we managed to understand, how to plan our life here.

N.M.: Is your husband working now?

M.S.: No, he is not working. It’s difficult. He doesn’t speak English, he doesn’t speak Romanian. He tried to look for a job, but he can only find unqualified work, and once you’ve had your own business and you were an employer it is difficult to become an employee. When we came here, I started to work in a volunteer centre, and then Jane organized a transport of humanitarian aid, so he delivered it the first time, then the second time, then the third time, then it didn’t make sense for him to get a job because he wasn’t free. Now we collect humanitarian aid, we load the van and he drives it to Ukraine, as he is allowed to cross the border. We have our van, and he uses it to deliver all this stuff to Ukraine. 

N.M.: So he drives to the border and distributes the humanitarian aid there?

M.S.: Each time is different. The first time I went as well, together with my father. We were afraid he wouldn’t be allowed to come back. We got to the border, transferred the aid into another van, then people took it to Lviv and distributed it. The second time we decided to try and cross the border, so he went to Kyiv alone. We have friends there who work with volunteers, families and soldiers, and he delivered the aid to them. Last week he went again and delivered aid directly to the people in the Kyiv region. 

(Children come in)

N.M.: Did you bring them with you?

M.S.: They started last week. It’s for children over 9. So the older one was here last week, and this week they have 6 volunteers. 

N.M.: Are these your nephew and your daughter?

M.S.: Yes. 

N.M.: How did they adjust?

M.S.: It’s easier for kids. Everything is new. We try to take them out as often as we can. My parents are here, so we leave the baby in their care, and we take them to parks and playgrounds where they can meet other Ukrainians. Almost everyone has kids, so they have other kids to communicate with.

N.M.: Are there a lot of moms?

M.S.: Yes. For the kids, it’s like an adventure: new places, new friends. Of course, they ask when we are going back home, they miss their toys, their room. My son didn’t ask too many questions, he is not used to talking about his feelings, but he has been watching the news, so he understands more. Also, he talks to his grandfather. So he doesn’t ask. But my daughter asks: why do I have to go to school here? I tell her: be thankful it is not a Romanian school, but a Ukrainian school. This is already well enough. (laughs). If we were in Germany, you would have to go to a German school. (laughs). And no one would ask you whether you wanted to go or not. (laughs). Thanks, Romania. No one forces us to go to a Romanian school here. (laughs) 

N.M.: You could go to school and assist during class, right?

M.S.: Yes, they could go and listen in, but they wouldn’t understand much. Maybe it would work for math class, as it is universal, but in languages and other subjects it would be difficult. 

N.M.: Yes, it is difficult. We don’t speak Ukrainian, you don’t speak Romanian, and to have classes in English for kids who don’t understand…

M.S.: Yes. It is quite complicated. So Ukrainian school is a good decision for us. Romanian school is ok if you decide to stay here permanently. But most of us don’t plan to do that. Because our families are there, our houses, apartments, everything is there. People came here not to change their place of residence, they came here to survive. It is not a good idea to integrate too much, as we all hope that maybe next year we will be able to go back home and continue our life and kids could continue Ukrainian school. So if they took classes in a Romanian school, they would have to redo the subjects in the Ukrainian school. 

N.M.: They would be losing a year.

M.S.: Yes. That’s why we try to continue with the Ukrainian program, so we don’t lose that time. 

N.M.: It’s good they have this KidsHub.

M.S.: It’s wonderful they have it. I am so grateful we have such ladies here, full of initiative. Because in other cities they don’t have anything like this. Ira does a lot.

N.M.: I talked to her.

M.S.: She is very active. It’s easy when you have no kids. I would also be active (smiles), but I have people who need my energy and time.

N.M.: I was thinking about you, about this particular situation of being a mom and everything changing. You know this very well, it makes everything more delicate, and you have to pay attention to other aspects.

M.S.: School. It seems it is easier to have children who are not in school or kindergarten, but I have of all ages. (laughs)

N.M.: You are living quite an adventure.

M.S.: Yes, it’s true. That’s our story. (laughs) Maybe it’s not much, but at the same time it’s not little. 

N.M.: What is interesting for me is how history influences our life. We are not politicians, we have nothing to do with all of this, but we are influenced by other people’s decisions. And you feel like everything slips away and you can’t control it. 

Maryna, did you take anything with you that connects you to your home, a photo or an object?

M.S.: Our situation is quite different as we were able to move. Most of my things have already been moved to Timisoara. We took most of our clothes, not cutlery or anything like that, it didn’t make any sense, but things I depend on. They moved with me. I have my pillow, I have my blanket. (laughs) You suffer a lot when you use things that are not yours. It’s difficult. Of course, we try not to depend on a lot of things, but it makes you feel more comfortable when you have at least something that makes you feel at home. So we took some things from home and our apartment is now more comfortable. 

N.M.: Old photos? Anything that reminds you…

M.S.: Of course, we have photos on our phones. My husband was home a couple of times and made videos. Our friends have been checking up on our house and making videos. I have roses in the garden, and they sent us videos of these roses: you see, your roses, they are growing, and here are your flowers and strawberries… 

N.M.: This is all in your garden?

M.S.: Yes, but most of it has been destroyed by the digging of the shelter, so now only a few of the strawberries remain. But we also have grapes and trees and so on. I also have a lot of videos made by different people who went to our house and packed our stuff to send it here. I am waiting for my mom to come back and put everything in order. Again, the flowers are still alive. (smiles) Sasha’s sister has been watering them. I have many orchids. I love them very much and I really miss them. So I asked her to go and water them so they wouldn’t die. So I know my house is ok, it is not clean, but it is ok. It is almost untouched, except for the stuff that we have brought here. 

N.M.: Do you have a cat? Pets?

M.S.: No, we have a small… English… I don’t know what it is called…

N.M.: Guinea pig?

M.S.: No, smaller. I forgot the name. Anyway, we had to leave it. At first, my father was there, but when he had to leavem he gave it to our neighbours, and they gave it to the children in the village. So it is somewhere in the village. When my daughter asks me: where is my Charlie? I tell her: it is somewhere in the village. When we come back, I will buy you another hamster! Yes, hamster! 

N.M.: But he is small.

M.S.: Yes, he is small. We like traveling, so when the kids asked for pets, we told the- if you have a pet, you will not be able to travel with us, so there will be no pets, ok? Having three kids, I am not ready to look after cats and dogs. I have enough kids. Maybe when they grow up, I will decide that I need a dog or a cat. 

N.M.: You have to take care of pets. My colleague who has children told me: my son wanted a cat, so now I have a cat. Because he played with it for two or three days, and then he got bored.

M.S.: It was the same with the hamster. I had to clean the cage, I had to feed it, I had to do everything.  

N.M.: Thank you for your time and for answering my questions. It was a very interesting story.

M.S.: Another small story. We never expected people to be so kind, so open, so helpful. When we left—remember that we needed surgery—we started to look for surgeons. Someone recommended a doctor from Turkey, he said the surgery would cost 3,000$. We said ok, it’s about the girl’s appearance, we can’t save money on this. 

N.M.: It’s for the rest of her life.

M.S.: Yes. I called this doctor and we talked. The following day he texted me and said he would do the operation for free. And we were so grateful to him it! We spent a lot anyway, since we had to go to Turkey and stay there for two weeks, we had to pay for accommodation, but we ended up saving about 2,000$. And this doctor was ready to perform surgery on Ukrainian kids for free! This is more proof that people are kind and generous. 

N.M.: So she had the surgery?

M.S.: Yes, she had the surgery, and everything is ok. 

N.M.: Are you going back for a check-up?

M.S.: For the moment, no. Maybe we will go when she is one year old, but I hope we won’t need to. 

N.M.: That will be in December?

M.S.: Yes, but I still hope we won’t have to. 

N.M.: What would be the ideal situation for you?

M.S.: The ideal situation would be to be able to go back home. Just to go back home to our usual life. There are people who dream of moving abroad, who don’t want to stay in Ukraine, but we decided that we want to live there. We bought a house and made plans to live our life there. If the kids want to study abroad, ok. But we didn’t plan to go with them. And now we are even more determined not to change country. We just want to go back home, and we want our country to become powerful and prosperous, and to become a real part of the European Union. I think we proved that we deserve to be part of Europe and not part of Russia. 

N.M.: That’s obvious for all of us here.

M.S.: But not for Russia. It’s time to leave. (rain started).

N.M.: Thank you again!

Translation: Evghenia Jane Rozbitska

Proofreading: Cristina Chira, Alexandra Palconi-Sitov

Photo credit: Mircea Sorin Albuțiu